Life changes

Day 71 — Staying with Kelly and James tonight. It was Ryan’s birthday today so we partied late and the Caltrain stops running at 12:15 so it’s this or the SF office couches. Found out today that James and Kelly are breaking up. Feels sad. Might move in with James though which is the only good to come of their situation. Very sad. I love them. Hope to stay friends with Kelly because she seems like a really great person despite what happened between her and James. James is also leaving to work at a startup. That’s something he’s wanted to do for a while though so good for him. I don’t want to lose him as a friend just because we won’t work together anymore. I hope they are okay. I started this journey with them, so it’s sad to see them apart. They have been together for five years. Reminds me of Erin and I except longer and not engaged.

Happy birthday to Ryan though.

Stuck at work

Day 66 — An awkward situation I’ve frequently been running into is working late. Busses from work stop running after about 9:30, so if I work past that time I have to explain to people that I don’t need a ride home to the city, that “I’ll just drive home.” I think I’ve declined enough rides to cement my position of never accepting rides home, but it can still get hairy sometimes. Take this one particular night, where my team was working late, and there was a few folks from the group who lived in the city who were counting on getting a ride home from the fellow city dwellers who drove to work that day. Consider the situation I’m in: I either say A) I don’t have my car today so I too need a ride “home” to the city, B) I have my car so I can drop someone off at their house on the way to mine. Either situation has me going up to the city where I do not need to go. Somehow I got out of this situation, but I got real nervous when it happened. Hoping it doesn’t happen again.

Another realization: there are so few things you can buy when you live in your car. No furniture, only a certain amount of clothes (I need to get rid of a lot), no extra gadgets, no kitchen supplies, nothing. I’m actually starting to save money. Of course, it can all be blown in one flight with a couple nights of expensive food and drink. But I’m trying to avoid that. My technique so far has been to work 7 days a week. I feel like a monk. I work, sleep, and eat in pretty much the same building. It’s a very strange feeling. Can’t believe it’s been 2 months.

So far, no real complications to report. I’m sure this journey would be a bit more interesting if I was living in the city in my car. Still figuring if I want to do that or just stay down in the valley in the secured parking lot.

What a bore I am.

Scoot scoot

Day 44 — I bought a scooter today. Also yesterday I discovered a cafeteria at work that’s open on Saturdays and Sundays. So I stayed at work this whole weekend.

On Friday I finally bought a new battery for my car, so after being parked in the same spot at work for weeks, I finally moved. Still not real comfortable driving it up to the city, so I’ll have to wait till I pay the $2600 to get it fixed. So not looking forward to that.

Anyway, significant progress on the happiness front. Really can’t express how happy I am to have a scooter to ride around again. It’s so enjoyable.

Next big step: lease a private garage in the city. Not sure if I’ve typed out my official plan for car logistics yet, so here it is: park my car in my leased garage during the days, and drive it to some safe neighborhood to sleep at night. I don’t want to sleep in the garage because I feel like the owner would expect something like that, and would check. Will inevitably sleep in the garage a few times though.

Next small step: buy $75 scooter rack for trailer hitch on my car. Then I’ll be able to take my house and my scoot with me anywhere! The dream.

A nice bed

Day 36 - Sleeping in Jen and Ryan’s guest room. Gotta stop staying with people. This was not the plan.

I feel very cared for when people offer to let me stay over, but I don’t want to do it anymore. I need to get my car fixed. I need to have it here in the city on weekends.

The bed is nice though. I miss furniture. Never thought I would. I guess I like decorating places.

The San Francisco Office

Day 35 — Every day is a goddamned adventure. I swear, every day is so different. Each weekend I decide what the hell to do with myself, then jump head first into whatever dumb, complicated plan I’ve decided on for that weekend.

This weekend it’s taking a work bus up to the city, and trying to sleep in the San Francisco office for the weekend. I’ve slept there before. It’s quiet, they have a couch, and security is tight. I’ll be fine (wish me luck).

Might rent a Zipcar this weekend and drive somewhere. I really need to buy a scooter. Or get my car fixed. Scooter’s more fun. It wins.

Today I got my camping lamps and battery-powered fan in the mail. Nice to have light and circulating air that isn’t dependent on my car battery. Also managed to clean up a bit. It’s amazing how messy it gets when I live without light for too long.

Once I get a jump, I can’t let my car die again. Too dangerous to be trapped like that. I think I’ve been lucky. James said they send out notifications when cars are parked in the same spot in the work lots for too long. It should be easy to get a jump. Maybe I’ll do that this weekend with the Zipcar. What a brilliant idea, right?

I’m really enjoying this. I’m falling into a rhythm. Really hoping to take this act on the road some time soon. Just gotta throw down on those car repairs. That shit kills me.

A month of this

Day Thirty — Today is my one-month mark. I spent a week in New York staying with Samir and Nathan, (I consider that to go right along with my homeless lifestyle), and just got back from a 5-day trip back home, which was nothing like homelessness, but other than that and sleeping on James and Kelly’s couch once I’ve been sleeping in my car every night.

I’m pretty sure I could do this for as long as I want. It’s an odd feeling, but I don’t think anyone cares or notices that I’m at work literally 24 hours a day. And I’ve been thinking that I’m not so sure that’s against the rules. This comforts me.

When I got back from New York I realized I’d left an interior light on, so the car is now dead. I’m living in a dead car. Every once in a while I can get an interior light to stay on, but for the most part it’s dead. So I’ve gotta buy a battery-powered camping lamp. Should’ve done that a while ago, instead of draining the battery with the interior lights, but *live-n-lern*.

I passed a Volkswagon van a week or two ago on the street and was very interested in it. I didn’t know that those vans had so much interior storage and a table inside them. So I’m on the lookout for that. Also planning on buying a little scooter and putting a scooter-holder on the back of my car so I can use that to scoot around to do any quick trips. Driving the beast of a land-yacht gets tiresome. Plus, due to the nature of living in my car, it would be nice to just ride around on a scooter every once in a while so I don’t feel so contained.

Still haven’t figured out the charging-all-my-stuff situation. I really want to put solar panels on top of the car. Of course, being parked in a garage all the time isn’t going to help there. I mean, I am at work, so I just plug stuff in at my desk and rely on things to hold their charge through the night, but I’d really like to have a solution in the car so I can plug things in while I’m “at home.”

I really wish I could just tell people I’m homeless. Can’t homeless people have jobs? No? Why exactly do people need physical addresses anyway?

Dark in the morning

Day 5 — It’s funny, I can tell it’s morning outside when I can see less light through my curtains. The garage lights are all on during the night, but in the mornings they turn almost all of them off, making it darker in bed. Sort of inconvenient, but I’ll take it as an alarm clock. I have my car parked against a wall, so each time I get out of it, I bump the door into the wall, and have to shimmy out of the car. But at least I get out privately. No one can see me when I get out of my car, and even if they can, it kind of looks like I’m coming out of the driver’s door.

That morning I was rested. I felt great. My day was great. Work was easy, I left early to meet my Airbnb guests and give them the key to my apartment, came back to work, and just generally had a fine rest of the day.

When work became home

Day 4 — The day after my first day sleeping at work was rough. I was sure this wasn’t going to last. I had a miserable headache all day, my body was sore, and I knew this was all a bad idea that I was now forced into. I was a bad coworker that day, but I think it was excused because it was Monday. I also realized when I woke up that I left my computer in my rental car, which was at my temporary corporate apartment, so I tried hitching a ride there on a work-bound bus. Apparently they only go to work in the mornings, and don’t make round trips. I found that odd, but it was a good thing my car/house was here. I’d just drive that to my apartment and grab my laptop bag, drive my rental car back, since it does better in traffic (it doesn’t smoke), then get a bus from work back to my apartment that evening, and drive my other car/house back to work to sleep for the night. What a complicated scheme. It hurt my head to organize it, but it ended up working out. So now I had both of my cars at work. The rental car I had to return in a week though, so I wouldn’t have two cars in a week. And my apartment’s lease was up at the end of the month, so that would go away soon too. I’d soon have no choice but to live in my car. I decided to rent the temporary apartment place out on Airbnb in the meantime. Considering I was living in my car, I might as well make a few more bucks by doing it.

That morning, I had to use the bathroom really badly, so looking for an outfit in my piles of mixed up clothes was not a pleasant experience. I needed to get my clothes organized. So I put my pants in one pile, my shirts in one pile, my underwear and socks in another pile, and threw all my coats into a final heap furthest from the trunk door, next to the passenger’s-side, back-right door, which doesn’t open, making it really convenient for shoving things up against it. I would need hangers for my nicer, button-down shirts, so I decided to make a run to Wal-mart on the way back to work.

When I got to Wal-mart and parked, I noticed the car I parked next to was packed tight with clothes, a guitar, and lots of knick-knacks. It was a hard sight to see, and I immediately knew how wrong my experiment of being homeless could go. I’m not much of a collector, but I decided when I saw this that I couldn’t let my possessions get out of control, and needed to stay organized. I went inside, waded through far too many people for a Monday night, ended up browsing the camping section, where I picked up a knife because “You’ll get upset with yourself if you don’t have this when someone tries breaking in”, picked up some rope to tie my curtains back when not in use, searched forever but finally found a hole punch to secure the rope to the curtains, and got my hangers. I had 9 items so I stood in the 10 Items or Less line, and naturally was behind 2 people who both had far more than 10 items. They were scolded by the cashier, I bought my items, and hurried to my car to drive to work, to go to sleep.

I smelled bad, so I tried out the work showers for the first time. Not bad. And now I was freshly showered for the first time in four days, so that felt pretty good. And then I began night 2 of sleeping at work. I was much more at ease this night, since I had 2 aspirin a bit earlier, and I was generally more comfortable with sleeping in my car. I hung my nice shirts, checked every possible crack that someone could peak through, took off my clothes, and went to sleep, determined to sleep well this night.

I did. I woke up exactly at nine o'clock in the morning, peed in a water bottle, picked out an outfit easily, opened the back left door (this is essentially my front door), and started on my 20-foot commute to work.

First Good Morning

Day 3 — Waking up in the neighborhood was actually really nice. The view from the top of that hill was just gorgeous. I got to wake up seeing the, “rows and rows of houses on a hill” thing, that so characterizes San Francisco. That morning I really had to pee and James and I were going to this birthday thing for a work friend so I texted him hoping to pee in his house when I went to pick him up. He didn’t respond. I texted Ryan for the address to the birthday party. He texted back and I drove off toward the Beach Chalet, where Matthew’s party was. At this point I probably had a collective 10% of battery charge across all my devices, which included both phones, my MiFi hotspot, iPad, and Mophie back-up charger. I really need to figure out a charging solution. Luckily during the week I can charge at work.

So I arrive at the Beach Chalet, head straight to the bathroom, where it stinks like a public restroom surprisingly, since this is a pretty nice establishment. Anyway, after I was finally relieved from a night of not peeing, I walked around the place to find the brunch party. Found it. Ate an incredible brunch buffet for this dude’s birthday, had tons of champagne, only a bit of coffee, and realized I was getting a massive headache. Living where there isn’t running water means I don’t drink much water. I was dehydrated. I remember distinctly the day I went with Kelly to buy my curtains, she said “You gotta do this one thing for me if you’re gonna do this: stay hydrated.” I didn’t and felt like crap now. So I got in my car and drove to the beach, across the street. It was packed but I found a spot in the lot and opened up the back door of my new house, and just slept in there for about a half hour. As I was dozing off to sleep, I heard little bits of “Oh that’s a good idea” and “This guy’s got it right”. Little did they know that I was actually lounging at home.

If I didn’t say already, the engine on my car is pretty messed up. It runs well, but smokes like crazy sometimes. It’s really embarrassing. Anyway, the lady I bought it from recommended a mechanic down in Santa Clara where I could have it worked on. I looked up the place on my iPhone’s 3% battery. They were open on Sundays! Great news. I called and they had some availability and told me to bring the car down this afternoon to have it looked at. Perfect. I stayed at the beach a while longer, but the constant crowds got annoying so I packed it up, did a 5-point-turn with the help of a stranger to get out of the parking spot, and got on the highway to Santa Clara. I realized I’d need to stop somewhere to get one of my devices up to snuff to get me down to the mechanic. But wait! I remembered my iPad holds its’ charge rather long, and I think it was at 7%, so I went with it. I got directions to the place, stopped for gas once in Los Altos Hills, and made it to the place around 5PM.

The old man in the wheelchair that greeted me behind the desk had a streak of bright blue  in his hair. The place was called Volpar and anything that was colored was colored blue including the text on the building, the chairs in the office, the shelves, and the man’s streak of colored hair. He told me he remembered working on my car when the previous owner brought it in. He told me what he recalled it needed to run well, and then took my key and told me to “Go wait in the waiting room, play some pool, get some coffee” while they checked the car out.

And then, I waited what seemed like hours in this incredibly stale room that looked like it hadn’t changed in 20 years. There was a massive pool table in the middle of the room, surprisingly up-to-date magazines on the side table next to me, a small model of a blue Volvo Sedan, dusty, blue curtains, and this ridiculous photo of a cat with a hat on facing a pool table. It was truly bizarre room. The old man in the wheelchair eventually called me on some invisible speakerphone after about 5 years of waiting in that room, “Brandon your car is ready.” Unfortunately that didn’t mean my car was really ready, as in fixed. No, that would cost me a lovely twenty-six-hundred dollars. That’s 2.6 times what I paid for it. I have no idea if that’s even worth it to me. I could buy another one with a better engine for that price. But I just insured this car, and I just registered the car in my name, and ugh and ugh and more ugh.

“I’ll think about it and get back to you,” I said. And before I walked out the door, “Would it be ok to drive until it’s fixed, or no?”

“No, I wouldn’t drive it. That could mess up other parts of the engine.” he said.

And like that, I had a car I was scared to drive.

That night I decided it was time for me to try sleeping in the garage at work. It was Sunday after all, so it made sense. I’d just go park there and wake up on Monday at work. There would be literally a 20-foot commute. And so that’s what I did. It was a bit weird getting into my car at work to go to sleep, but that is exactly what I did. I put up my curtains, which I installed earlier that day, took off my clothes, and went to sleep. Again I was nervous. There’s pretty tight, 24-hour security here, so I was positive that someone would wake me in the middle of the night and tell me to leave. I ended up watching something on my iPad and fell asleep. I woke up a few times during the night, and felt like crap in the morning, but I managed it: night three in my car … at work.

Learning how to live

Day 2 — The next morning I woke up to brightly-lit, fogged-out windows, and a homeless couple sleeping on the sidewalk just outside my car. I learned three things from night one: don’t park in party areas, crack the windows to avoid the breath fog (a sure sign that I am in the car), and park up on hills where most homeless people decide not to venture.

That day I texted Kelly and drug her to IKEA with me to get curtains and various things I still needed for my interior. She was the first person in San Francisco that I told. She was incredibly supportive and surprisingly curious about all the ins and outs of my plan to live in my car. We had a good time figuring out things like where I would poop on the weekends, and that I could never bring a girl back to my place. After IKEA, we visited James at work, and I broke the news to him. Later on that evening, Ryan invited me to this art crawl in the Haight, and I let him and Jen in on the secret. They were completely in disbelief for a good half hour, before they realized I really wasn’t joking, and showed them the inside of my new crib. They offered to let me stay in their guest bedroom, which I declined about 5 times before agreeing. After the art crawl (tons of fun, by the way) we went back to Ryan and Jen’s house to have some drinks. James stopped by to hang out and we all talked ourselves nearly to sleep, everyone cracking the occasional joke about my new apartment. Notable: “You live all over the city” and “When you go to bed, you have to check 5 doors, not just a front and back one” and referring to my arrangement as a “studio apartment with great views of the city … privacy windows … a skylight … small stove (cigarette lighter)”.

Luckily James cabbed it to Ryan’s house so I had an excuse to take him home and dodged the temptation of sleeping in a real house on a real bed. I’m committed, and I want to really force myself to do this! James and Kelly live in the highest part of the Castro, so I applied my learning about hills and homeless people, and searched for a good spot in their neighborhood. The thing about hilly neighborhoods is that there are many hills and not so many plateaus for sleeping. So I parked on a fairly steep hill, making sure that my feet would be facing downhill, and jumped in bed. At 3 AM I realized I never wanted to sleep on an hill ever again. My body felt all squished and disoriented. I climbed out the back window in the dark, got into the driver’s seat, and began driving aimlessly looking for a flat place to park in this neighborhood. At last I found some place not too far from James and Kelly, and parked, ready to get some real Z’s. This was much better. The best spot so far. The most awkward part about it  was climbing out of the back of the car at 9:30AM alongside power-walking moms in spandex and dog-pooping dads in pajamas. I drove away quickly to avoid any more elongated stares from these average passersby.


Day 1 — I was hanging out with Kelly and James and Kelly’s Mom and her boyfriend, eating pizza. It was getting late so I headed out. At this point James and Kelly were under the impression that I moved to the city today and was now on my way home for the first time. They were partly correct. So when I left their apartment, I drove down to the Daly City Target to buy sheets, a blanket, pillows, and pillowcases. When I came out from Target with my new goods, I noticed that my front left tire was getting dangerously low. I checked the front right one and it was in the same place as the left one. So here I am in a Target parking lot at 11:00 at night getting ready for my first night sleeping in my car, 20 miles from San Francisco, and I need to find a gas station with an air pump to pump up my dangerously-close-to-flat tires.

I Googled the closest gas station, and found that it was only just around the block. I drove over carefully, as to not pop my tires which in my mind were surely going to pop at any moment, then pulled up to the scariest gas station on earth. Luckily it had an air pump. I realized that I’d need quarters after pulling up to the pump, so I jogged over to the creepy McDonalds next door, bought a one-dollar burger and one-dollar small fry, and asked for “three dollars in quarters please.”

“Your change is $17, is two dollars in quarters alright?”

“Yeah sure.” I try to be nonconfrontational, and it won’t take too long to pump up these tires, so whatever. So I walk back on over next door to my car and insert four quarters. The machine revs to life, and starts pumping air. These things work right away once you’ve fed them your change, so only then did I find that both my front tires were at a laughable 22PSI (they’re supposed to be at 43). Anyway, I hold the hose to the tire for about a minute, and recheck the PSI. At 30, great, this might take a while. I nervously checked the pressure every 10 seconds or so to see how long this might take, eager to get out of this dimly-lit gas station. One more minute later, the pump shuts off. I was at a whopping 32PSI. Was that good enough? Gee, I don’t know, but I might as well make them even. I shove four more quarters in the machine, the tank begins to blow again, and I pull the hose around to the right side tire. *SHUNK* Crap, the hose only reaches like five feet! I drop it on the ground and hop in the car to pull it around so the right tire is closer to the pump. I did the same amount of filling up as the other tire, until the pump cut off just after the predictable 32PSI MARK. I was too nervous to just think that was enough for now, so I embarrassingly trudged back over to the McDonalds, ordered a small Diet Coke, was reminded that all sizes were just a dollar and “do you want the jumbo size”, politely declined, was chastised by the enormous man behind me in line for not getting my money’s worth, half-assedly explained my tire situation, took 8 more quarters and some change, returned to my sad, sinking car and pumped his tires back up.

Once my car was back to an acceptable and safe-to-drive posture, I was finally able to eat my unintentional McDonalds fourthmeal. I took a few bites of the burger, ate most of the fries, drank a few sips of the Diet Coke before realizing I was about to, hopefully, go to sleep, and threw the rest of it out into the overturned trash can in the gas station parking lot. I got back in my car, and drove back up to the city to find a suitable place to park for the night.

As it goes with this kind of adventure, I got a sudden burst of optimism and sense of adventure for what I was doing, and decided I should go out to a busy part of the city and have a drink with some strangers. Must have been the jolt from those precious sips of Diet Coke. I ended up on 16th street between Guerrero and Delores. It seemed to be a happening place, so I locked the car down, covered up my valuables (That should work right?), and headed toward the crowds of people. Unfortunately the crowds were crowding around a crime scene, rather than some drunk cat fight, or some dude break dancing. There were police cars, ambulances showed up, they sectioned off parts of the road and sidewalk with caution tape, girls were crying on other girls’ shoulders. Witnesses were being interviewed and I caught a glimpse of the story, “these guys were just drunk and fighting and one guy pulled out a gun and just shot the other guy.” I looked over to see a body lying, covered in plastic on the ground, and another guy pressed against a police car in handcuffs, pretty calm actually, but still very surreal to see. Of course, as fun as all this looked, I was eager to get out of the thick of it and decided I would toast with strangers another night. I walked back to my car for bed time.

Nervous about the initial entry into my back seat, I paced around the car a while, looking not so unsuspicious. Finally, I popped the back door open, and clamored inside, tucking my feet in quickly and slamming the door shut behind me. Not too bad. But then I realized you can see out of tinted windows from the inside, even if you can’t from the outside. And suddenly every person that walked past me could see me in there trying to sleep. And soon after that, every person who walked past, I’m sure was stopping at my car just to see if they could see in. Even these two big mean guys stopped and plotted breaking into my car and killing me, I’m sure of it. I barely slept.